Social work is a practice that helps people improve their lives through direct service, policy advocacy, and community organizing. Social workers work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, businesses, mental health agencies, and private practices. Social workers can be employed by organizations or be self-employed professionals who contract with organizations to provide services.
While traditional social work practice has been around for decades, there are new alternatives that may suit some individuals better. This article aims to explore some of these alternative practices and offer insight into the role education plays in securing those positions.
Social work education
Social workers are educated in many different ways. Some social workers attend a 4-year bachelor’s degree program at a college or university. Other options include obtaining an associate’s degree from a community college or online program and completing the SWC test (the required exam for licensure).
A Georgia online MSN program, from Florida State University, can help you land alternative opportunities. It provides greater flexibility and more opportunities for advancement than an associate’s degree. Many organizations require a master’s degree for management positions.
The MSW is designed for those who have already completed an undergraduate degree in social work or another field related to social justice, such as psychology, sociology, or criminal justice. This advanced degree allows students to delve deeper into particular issues affecting communities and individuals, such as homelessness and substance abuse. Students may also focus on international development issues like poverty alleviation, global health, and human rights advocacy.
Alternative roles you can pursue with an MSW degree
Social workers are highly trained professionals who work with individuals, families, and communities to promote social change and personal well-being. They are qualified to perform a wide range of duties, so it’s not surprising that many social workers pursue careers as administrators.
- Public health administration roles
As a public health administrator, you’ll oversee activities related to improving the health of communities in your area. You might work for a government agency or nonprofit organization.
Public health administrators can be found at all levels within the public health system—from local health departments and regional organizations to state departments of public health. These positions include:
- Health department manager
This position involves overseeing all aspects of a county or district’s public health program. You’ll manage budgets, monitor budgets and expenditures, and ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. A health department manager may also need to supervise staff members.
- Health officer
This position involves managing an entire county or district’s public health program. You’ll coordinate efforts between agencies, such as law enforcement agencies and schools, when necessary.
- Public health officer
A PHO leads a specific public health program in a local community or region. For example, a PHO may oversee programs that help prevent infectious diseases from spreading among communities or groups of people at risk for such illnesses.
- Health educator
A health educator teaches people about healthy living to prevent disease and illness. They may teach classes on proper nutrition, first aid, CPR, and other skills to help people make healthier choices. These individuals often work for hospitals, schools, or other organizations that provide services to the public.
- Community health worker
Community health workers are trained to assist individuals or families with chronic illnesses or injuries. They may support patients during their recovery process or help them understand their medical diagnoses so they can better manage their care. These individuals can be found at hospitals, clinics, or other care facilities that serve low-income communities and vulnerable populations.
- Health policy analyst
Health policy analysts examine the way state laws affect public health issues such as smoking laws, insurance coverage requirements, and access to healthcare services. They also study how these laws impact the overall health of the general population and specific groups like children or seniors. The goal of this work is to help lawmakers create new policies that improve access to quality care for all Americans.
- Public health advisor
A public health advisor is a liaison between the public and private sectors, providing strategic guidance and support to healthcare providers and policymakers. They may also support public health programs by helping them develop their mission, goals, and objectives.
- Occupational health and safety specialist
A growing area of interest for public health professionals in occupational health and safety, which encompasses workplace injury prevention, workplace violence prevention, emergency preparedness and response, and other related areas. Occupational safety specialists work with employers to develop programs that protect workers from harm. They can also help identify and evaluate new technologies or materials that may pose risks to workers, such as chemicals or new types of equipment.
- Human resources consultant
A human resources (HR) consultant is an individual who helps businesses and organizations to manage their workforce by advising them on matters related to employee management. The role of a human resources consultant can vary from one organization to another. Still, it generally involves understanding the organization’s and its employees’ needs and then providing advice about how best to meet these needs.
Some of the duties performed by an HR consultant include:
- Helping companies with their recruitment process; this may involve researching potential candidates, writing job descriptions, and setting up interviews
- Conducting exit interviews with departing employees, which allows learning more about why they’re leaving as well as any concerns they have about the organization
- Guiding policies such as compensation packages, benefits, and employee development opportunities (e.g., training programs)
- Guiding organizational culture and policy changes that may affect morale or productivity levels within the company or organization
- Providing training to employees on topics such as conflict resolution and workplace ethics
Many organizations have human resource departments that handle hiring and firing, compensation issues, and employee benefits. Social workers who want a career change may find that these departments also need assistance when handling sensitive situations like discrimination complaints or dealing with employees who are going through personal problems that interfere with their work performance (such as alcoholism).
One alternative role for an MSW graduate is to pursue corporate training. This role involves teaching employees how to manage their careers and jobs better. For example, you might teach new employees how to handle work conflicts or manage their time more effectively. A master’s degree in social work gives you the necessary knowledge base to teach people about these topics and make them better employees.
Social workers with an MSW degree can offer organizations a valuable service by helping them develop a program tailored specifically to their needs. This could include developing manuals or webinars on various topics to teaching new hires how to use specific software applications within the company.
Corporate trainers often work with human resources departments or executive teams within companies, but they also may be self-employed consultants who offer training on an as-needed basis.
The duties of a corporate trainer vary from one organization to another, but they generally include the following:
Assess the training needs of employees
Trainers need to understand what training is required and why it is needed. They gather information about their company’s training needs by conducting interviews with managers, supervisors, and employees.
They review employee manuals, job descriptions, and performance evaluations. Trainers also conduct surveys to discover what employees already know about a new topic or skill set they want to teach them.
Develop training curriculum
Next, trainers develop an outline or curriculum for each training session they lead. This includes writing lesson plans, creating handouts that employees can use during the training sessions, and developing exercises that will reinforce key concepts taught during class time. The materials created by the trainer will be used by other trainers within your organization or sold to other clients who need similar training materials developed for their staff members or customers. A great corporate trainer will also consider how much involvement from senior management should be expected.
Conduct training sessions
Trainers lead each training session themselves or may bring guest speakers to help deliver specific parts of the curriculum. Trainers monitor participants’ progress during class time, making adjustments as necessary based on participant feedback and observations made during the session itself.
Trainers deliver their content to employees in one-on-one sessions or large group sessions. Trainers may use lecture methods (telling) or discussion methods (asking questions). They may also demonstrate skills using models or props.
Coaches help individuals and organizations achieve their goals through guidance and training. An MSW program usually includes coaching theory, research, and evaluation courses. There is also the opportunity to train in coaching skills such as active listening, problem-solving, and goal-setting. If you have experience working with people with similar problems as your clients, this could be helpful when applying skills learned in class to real-world situations.
Coaches may work with individuals or teams in both professional and personal settings. Coaching requires listening carefully, asking questions, and giving feedback without judgment so that clients feel comfortable opening up about their needs and goals. The duties of a coach include:
Providing a personalized experience for clients
Coaches help people meet their goals and overcome challenges. They provide guidance, support, encouragement, and feedback. They also help people develop new skills and strategies to reach their goals.
Coaches often work with high-performing individuals who want to achieve more in life as well as with those struggling with a specific challenge or life transition. A coach helps people reach their full potential by providing a safe, supportive environment where they can examine their thoughts and behaviors from a different perspective.
The result is that clients become empowered to make the necessary changes to reach their goals.
Providing tailored feedback
A coach with a master’s degree in social work can provide tailored feedback to help clients improve their lives. Coaches are trained to listen carefully to what their clients say, allowing them to understand their needs and goals better. In addition, coaches have experience working with individuals from all walks of life, so they know how to adapt their coaching style depending on what their client needs most at any given time.
Collaborating with other team members
Social workers often collaborate with other professionals when working with clients, such as physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and nurses who share similar interests within their fields of expertise. For example, if you’re working with someone with depression, you may have a psychiatrist on your team to help treat that patient’s condition.
Creating training sessions
If you have experience working in human resources, coaching is another way to use that knowledge to help employees grow professionally. Coaches can create training sessions on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which enable employees to improve their clients’ interpersonal communication skills. They may also develop unique programs to enhance employee engagement or organizational productivity.
One of a coach’s essential roles is to document their clients’ progress and achievements. Coaches write down any questions the client asks them and the answers, what they’ve done in the sessions, what the client has accomplished between sessions, and how productive they were at work or home after each session.
This is essential for several reasons:
- It helps the coach keep track of what they’re doing as a coach (so they can tweak things if needed)
- It allows the client to reflect on what they’ve done with the coach and how it’s impacted their life
- It shows the client’s progress over time (which can help convince others that coaching works)
- It allows the coach to give feedback on how well the client is implementing the strategies they discussed with the coach
The traditional approach to social work is to work within an agency setting, providing services to clients with various needs. Social workers in this role provide counseling and other supportive services to clients in need. They may also be responsible for case management and other administrative tasks related to their clients’ treatment plans.
There are many ways to practice social work, and the field has expanded over time to include many practice areas. Social workers can use their training and expertise to work with individuals, families, and groups in various settings. With a master’s degree in social work, you can pursue several careers that offer more flexibility and autonomy than traditional agency-based social work roles.